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Monday, January 10, 2011

The Scottish Chiefs

Sir William Wallace has died. Yes, I know that this tragedy occurred 707 years ago, but the knowledge has just dealt me a heart-shattering blow. You see, today I finished reading Jane Porter's awe-inspring The Scottish Chiefs. The book was written in 1809, and it recounts the amazing life story of Sir William Wallace, chief of Ellerslie.

I was first introduced to the hero thus: "But while the courts of Edward, or of his representatives, were crowded by the humbled Scots, the spirit of one brave man remained unsubdued."
This remarkable sentence appeared on page one of The Scottish Chiefs, and that was the page that "had me hooked," so to speak. To state that the novel was stirring would be a masterpiece of an understatement. After reading the first few pages (on Christmas Day, shortly after having received it), I liked William Wallace. But as I read further and soon found myself enthralled with the story, I grew to love him.

He was a devoted husband.

"...Within the shades of Ellerslie he found a retreat and a home, whose sweets made him sometimes forget the wrongs of his country in the tranquil enjoyments of wedded love."

"...Scotland and its wrongs he now forgot in the idea of her whose happiness was dearer than life. He could not achieve the deliverance of the one, but it was his bliss to preserve the peace of the other; and putting spurs to his horse, he hastened through the town."

He was courageous.

"'Fly! Fly!' cried she, looking wildly at her husband.
'Whither?' answered he, supporting her in his arms. 'Would this be a moment to leave you and our wounded guest? I must meet them.'"

"Helen looked on the chief as she used to look on her cousin when expressions of virtuous enthusiasm burst from his lips. 'You would teach confidence to Despair herself,' returned she."

He was a devout man of God.

"'I am Sir William Wallace's wife,' returned the gentle Marion, in a firm tone: 'and by what authority you seek him thus, and presume to call him guilty, I cannot understand.'
'By the authority of the laws, madam, which he has violated.'
'What laws?' rejoined she, 'Sir William Wallace acknowledges none but those of God and his country. Neither of these has he transgressed.'"

"...'Blessed God,' cried he, stretching his clasped hands towards heaven, 'endow me with Thine own spirit, and I shall yet lead my countrymen to liberty and happiness.'"

(praying in the chapel) "'Here, gracious God, may I, unseen by any other eye, pour out my heart to Thee. And here, before Thy footstool, will I with my tears wash from my soul the blood which I have been compelled to shed.'"

"'I should not regard the curses of a world,' replied Wallace, 'when my conscience as loudly proclaims that God is on my side. Did the clouds rain fire, and the earth open beneath me, I would not stir; for I know Who planted me here; and as long as He wills me to stand, neither men nor devils can move me hence.'"

Wallace draws the king's sword
 He was patriotic.

"'Nothing is perilous to me,' replied he, 'that is to serve my country. I have no joy but in her.'"

"'To usurp any man's rights, and least of all my king's,' replied Wallace, 'never came within the range of my thoughts. I saw my country made a garrison of Edward's; I beheld its people outraged in every relation that is dear to man. Who heard their cry?...Where [were] the nobles of Scotland, that none arose to extinguish her burning villages, to shelter the mother and child, to rescue purity from violation, to defend the bleeding father and his son? The hand of violence fell on my own house--the wife of my bosom was stabbed to the heart by a magistrate of the usurper. I then drew the sword--I took pity on those who suffered, as I had suffered. I espoused their cause, and never will I forsake it till life forsake me.'"

He was wise beyond his years.

"'They only are invincible who are as ready to die as to live.'"

"...'Remember, my brave companion, if we would be blessed in the contest, we must be merciful.'"

"'Regret not that he goes before you, for what is death but entrance into life?'"

"'No,' replied Kirkpatrick, '... Sir William Wallace, of Ellerslie, is our chief; and with the power of his virtues he subdues not only friends but enemies to his command.'"

Wallace rescues Lady Helen
 He was noble.

"'Fear not, lady,' exclaimed a gentle voice, 'you are under the protection of a Scottish knight.' There was a kindness in the sound that seemed to proclaim the speaker to be of her own kindred; she felt as if suddenly rescued by a brother, and dropping her head on his bosom, a shower of grateful tears relieved her heart.'"

When Wallace's beloved wife Marion was ruthlessly murdered, I grieved with him. I could almost hear his heart-broken sobs. I rejoiced when he took his revenge. I felt his anger when his beautiful estate was burned to the ground.

"He had now mounted the craig which overlooked Ellerslie. His once happy home had disappeared, and beneath lay a heap of smoking ashes. He hastened from the sight, and directing the point of his sword towards Lanark, reechoed with supernatural strength, 'Forward!'"

I felt a pang of anguish when Wallace's faithful friend, a brave, noble lad of only fifteen, was killed while defending Wallace, whom he admired more than anyone else on earth.

"'Oh, my best brother that ever I had!' cried Wallace, in a sudden transport, and kissing his pale forehead; 'my sincerest friend in my greatest need. In thee was truth, manhood, and nobleness; in thee was all man's fidelity, with woman's tenderness. My friend, my brother, oh, would to God that I had died for thee!"

 When Wallace was arrested and locked in the prison, I feared that he would soon meet his terrible end. I dreaded it. When his dear Helen, distraught with fear for his life and overcome with love for him, agreed to the exchanging of marriage vows in the prison, though Wallace's execution was planned to be held the very next day, I felt all the sorrow the two must have held in their hearts. And I felt how romantic this agreement was. 
When Wallace died, my heart broke. I cried. And I wondered how many tears throughout the years must have fallen onto those same worn, yellowed pages. I wondered how many tears have ever been shed for the noble Sir William Wallace. I wondered if the immortal words of the author, Jane Porter, caused her to cry as she wrote them.

"'Helen,' faintly articulated Bruce, 'I come to share your sorrows, and to avenge them.'
'Avenge them!' repeated she, after a pause, 'is there aught in vengeance that can awaken life in these cold veins again? Let the murderers live in the world they have made a desert, by the destruction of its brightest glory!' Again she bent her head upon Wallace's cold breast, and seemed to forget that Bruce was present."

Though the story of the great William Wallace has caused me grief, I am overwhelmingly grateful to have gotten to know him and to have loved him through the amazing story The Scottish Chiefs. The story is one that has been passed from generation to generation, and I fully intend to continue the cycle. Lord willing, my children will hear of the noble Sir William Wallace of Ellerslie.
Needless to say, the book has further incensed my longing to visit Scotland--that longing which was first ignited after reading of the Rev. Peter Marshall in A Man Called Peter. I must visit that land, which De Warenne described in The Scottish Chiefs as, "...a land...where all the women are fair, and the men all brave!"


Tarissa said...

I can tell that you and I have many of the same interests by the look of your blog. I haven't read "The Scottish Chiefs" (although I'm pretty sure I've heard of it before). Now that I have read your opinion, this will also have to be added to my "read this someday" list. Scotland is one of my hobbies...as in, I like snatching up everything I can about it!

emily elizabeth said...

The Scottish Chiefs is an amazing book! I hope you get to read it! And your blog is very wholesome and inviting--I love it:) God bless!